3 reasons SMBs should care about Internet censorship

3 reasons SMBs should care about Internet censorship

Summary: There is a lot more at stake than 'just' freedom of expression, so the small business community -- especially those with a technology bent -- need to stay abreast of this issue.

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TOPICS: SMBs, Browser
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Unless they have been under a rock since the New Year began, small and midsize businesses should be acutely aware that there is a move afoot by U.S. lawmakers intended to thwart digital counterfeiting and pirating of intellectual property that lives on the Internet.

Plenty of pixels have been dedicated to the topic here on ZDNet because, frankly, this issue matters greatly to creators of content such as yours truly and pretty much every contributor to this blog network.

Not a day goes by, actually make that an hour, when one of us doesn't come across one of our commentaries or articles that has been 100 percent ripped off of this site and then added to another site -- with the intent of driving search traffic there and not here. It's irksome and financially damaging to writers and really hard to catch all of it, but there are lots of other reasons that SMBs need to pay attention to what is going on that I'll get to in a moment.

For the record, I support the general spirit of the two bills that have been proposed by the two houses of Congress. But as with so many things, the devil is in the details.

Here's the pertinent background. The U.S. House of Representatives has come up with something called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), while the U.S. Senate has created its own take, called the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). The spirit of both is pretty simple -- they purport to thwart illegal copying of movies, music, and other digitally or electronically forms of content. Sounds innocuous, no?

The problem is that the laws put the onus on those that "own" Internet sites to police whether or not intellectual property or copyright laws are being breached. The biggest sticking point is a clause that would require American Internet service providers (ISPs) to shut off access or routing requests to foreign Web site if they are found to be in breach. What's more, there is no burden of proof in the existing bills: a site merely has to be accused of being in breach to be in danger of being blacklisted and shut down. Think of how much damage that could do to a small business or e-commerce site. It should scare you.

On Wednesday, a number of Web sites -- including Wikipedia -- will go dark in protest of this possible government. The details are in this piece by ZDNet commentator Steven Vaughn-Nichols ("Who, besides Wikipedia, is going dark, and why"). I also encourage you to peruse the other commentaries for more background.

The good news is that there has been a dramatic shift as far as political support during just the past week. Over the weekend, for example, the White House said that while online piracy is very serious problem "we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression."

But why should a small business care anyway? Here are three very big reasons:

  1. If this legislation passes in the current form, your company will be responsible for policing the content on its Web site. Can you say more compliance rules? That means vetting every word, every outgoing Web link or product supplier to make sure they are in compliance with intellectual copyright laws. Since this is something that you might outsource today, you'll need to double down on your management of site content issues.
  2. Your business might need to take a public position on this legislation. GoDaddy found itself with a big black eye late in 2011 because of its involvement with SOPA. At least 27,000 domains were transferred away from the hosting company. Ouch. Your company may or may not have anything to do with digital content, but the respect that it gives to issues of censorship and protection of copyright will mean a lot in terms of relationships with business partners and customers.
  3. Legislation that is too broad could damage business relationships with international partners. It is ironic that the White House has been encouraging more small businesses to set up export relationships, enabled by the collaboration tools and marketing capabilities that the Internet provides. But in their current form, SOPA and PIPA might spook legitimate foreign partners.

Clearly, there is a lot more at stake than "just" freedom of expression, so the small business community -- especially those with a technology bent -- need to stay abreast of this issue.

Topics: SMBs, Browser

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5 comments
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  • The One Main Reason YOU Should Care

    One and only one main reason why everyone should care about censorship.... CENSORSHIP opens the door to CONTROL which leads down a slippery slope to ABSOLUTE CONTROL. Do you really want your big brother to tell you what you can and cannot read, write, use for refernce material, etc.? <br><br>Follow this example - you 'lift' a Biblical quote and someone's coversation about the quote (substitute writings of your choice here if you don't like my example) from a foreign website. The quote itself is public (as it has been published everywhere) however the conversation, blog or explanation of the quote is written by the article's author on his/her website. If someone accuses the author of plagerism, that website will be blocked and obviously the content of that website is blocked. The Bible (or Book of Mao or whatever) cannot be accessed. If this scenario of "accuse and block" is repeated often enough, the government has effectively controlled and dictated what you can and cannot see, read, view or learn. <br><br>Remember two things - Democracy is the only form of government wherein the population gets to elect its' dicatotor every four years. <br>And, two - power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    pj@...
    • Wrong.

      Sites that can be blocked are very narrowly defined in the bill as foreign hosted sites specifically targeting U.S. citizens for the purpose of commercial gain through the illegal sale of copyrighted material. Your example meets none of those criteria and so nothing will happen.
      baggins_z
  • RE: 3 reasons SMBs should care about Internet censorship

    I'm sure you have heard of a "Denial Of Service" (DOS) attack. Now get ready for the "Copyright Breach Blockade".
    If enough people claim a site has breached copyright, the site gets blocked. Same effect, in fact it may take LONGER to recover. Your site is up, but you need to go to EVERY ISP and prove your innocence before links are allowed again...
    alan_r_cam
    • Wrong.

      Unlike 99% of everyone else here, I actually read the bill. Infringing foreign sites are the only domains subject to domain blocking, and they are very narrowly defined in the bill as sites hosted in foreign countries specifically directed toward U.S. citizens in violation of Title 17 for the purpose of commercial gain.
      baggins_z
  • After taking the radical step of actually reading the SOPA

    bill, I have discovered that pretty much every criticism of this bill is BS. For example, your first argument is factually incorrect: From the amended Title 17 on the bill: EVIDENCE- For purposes of this subsection, evidence of reproduction, distribution, or public performance of a copyrighted work, by itself, shall not be sufficient to establish willful infringement of a copyright.

    In other words, just having someone put a link to copyrighted material on your website does NOT put you in violation and will NOT result in your assets being seized or you being fined. (Domain blocking will NEVER occur to a U.S. hosted site, domain blocking is only for foreign infringing sites, which are narrowly defined in the bill).

    In other words, all this anti-SOPA rhetoric is nothing more than hyperbole with no basis in fact whatsoever.
    baggins_z